Henry Benjamin
J-Wire (Opinion)
August 2, 2011 - 12:00am

Distinguised Israeli author Amos Oz delivered the Ervin Graf Oration in Sydney last night.

Under the auspices of the Shalom Institute, the city’s Sofitel Wentworth Hotel’s function room was filled to capacity to hear the gifted wordsmith speak on the subject of fanatics with the inevitable focus on the Middle East.

Michael Graf, the son of the late Ervin Graf opened proceedings speaking about his late father’s love of education. Shalom director Dr Hilton Immerman outlined some of the projects currently undertaken by the Institute.

He said that 22 scholarships were in place for Aboriginal students :most of whom are studying medicine…a program now into its sixth year. Mentioning the other programs the Institute offers for the furtherance of Jewish continuity, Immerman announced the latest project….PJs Library, a new venture which will see quality Jewish books and music suitable for children between six months and six years being distributed to families in NSW and the ACT. Families participating will receive a book or CD every month.

Amos Oz received a warm welcome from the 530 guests. He began the oration by saying “this evening we are not going to discuss Israelis and Palestinians” He said he would focus on “the single most urgent topic of our time…fanaticism”.

He said: “I think the clash which is going to become the syndrome of the 21st century is the clash between the fanatics of all colours and the rest of us.”

He referred to the recent bombing and shootings perpetrated in Norway.

In describing the classic fanatic, Oz said that The fanatic wants to change you for your own good….he or she wants to cure you from your praying habits, your voting habits
But he warned “there may be a fanatic in each and very one of us” and advocated that every university and school should start a course in fanaticism.

He said that fanatics are the violent ones. They want to change you by force. The fanatic has no private life and gives no value to life…in fact the fanatic is fascinated by death. He said “there is no human touch to his life.”

He spoke of his younger days in Jerusalem I was utterly convinced The Jewish Zionist cause is 110% right and every other cause is evil, dangerous and deserved to be wiped off the face of the earth. He said “The Arabs hated us…they were evil. The British were against us…they were all seen as evil.”

Oz was cured by a British policeman who secretly taught him English when Oz was seven returning the favour by teaching the officer some Hebrew That was the moment Oz realised he could not hate without exception.

He said that fanaticism is not restricted to angry mobs shaking fists in front of cameras…it is apparent in every day life, mentioning the vegetarians who “will eat you alive for eating meat” and anti smokers who “will burn you alive” for lighting a cigarette. He said he had friends in the peace movement in Israel who would “shoot him through the head” just because he had different ideas as to how to make peace with the Palestinians.

He said “the seed of fanaticism is a violent uncompromising self-self-righcheousness…the curse of our generation”.

Oz went on to say that many people treat the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy as a clash between right and wrong pinging out that it actually it is a tragic clash between right and right…and often a clash between wrong and wrong.

According to Oz, Israel holds fascination for fanatics all over the world “possibly because it was born by a dream” He said that the magnitude of the dream had created unrealistic expectations for Israel, It is expected to have “world high jump record in morality” and that it should turning its cheek to an enemy. It cannot live up to these expectations…not in a state of everlasting conflict. Fanatics are quick to jump on Israel.

He said Israel deserves criticism because of its rigid position on the Palestinians and the settlements but the fanatics’ criticism goes way beyond anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist, anti-Israel legitimate criticism. Oz expected this excessive criticism to once again manifest itself at the soon to be assembled Durban Conference which he described as “a festival of hatred anti-Israel Jewish Israeli fanaticism”.

Turning to the present day conflict, Oz said: “The syndrome of fatigue and exhaustion my lead to a compromise.”

However he said that young idealists think “compromise is dishonest, lacks integrity and is sneaky”.
He said that where there is life there ought to be compromise and that the opposite of compromise is fanaticism.

He talked of a “clenched teeth acceptance that we are not alone in the land. There are Israelis and there are Palestinians describing them as ”two unhappy families who need to divide the house into two apartments”.

But Oz showed concern that the fanatics on both sides would attempt to derail peace move saying they will not compromise and that they ignore the existence of the other. “They want it all for themselves”.

Oz declared that he is great believer in compromises and finished the oration with the simple message “Live and Let Live”.


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